Noncluttery present for London-bound bro?
August 26, 2015 7:32 AM   Subscribe

My brother has to go to London on short notice, and his trip promises to be a long and stressful one. I'd like to give him a going-away present, but not clutter or something to haul around. He already has an Oyster card, which was my first thought. What else might be nice to have if you suddenly found yourself in London and in a rush?
posted by theatro to Travel & Transportation around London, England (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Will he be staying in a hotel, a furnished flat? That would have bearing on the responses. Also, you could get him something that gets shipped to where he's staying - no need for him to transport it there.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:35 AM on August 26, 2015

An umbrella.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 7:40 AM on August 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

An umbrella.

One that folds up small, much easier to carry on the tube etc.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:57 AM on August 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

A laminated pop-up map (from Compass) always serves me well in new cities, if only to orient myself before going somewhere new via GPS or an electronic map.

Pretty cheap, and it makes a nice souvenir, too!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:02 AM on August 26, 2015

If I was rushing around London, a Pret card might come in handy for quick and ubiquitious on-the-go sandwiches. You can't swing a cat in London without hitting a Pret A Manger.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:03 AM on August 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

On a recent work trip, I got tremendous help from having a copy of the London postcode map.

I just have a copy that a coworker printed for me, but surely there's a way to gussy this up as a helpful present (maybe print/laminate?).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:24 AM on August 26, 2015

I'm not sure if it counts as a present, as it's free, but the citymapper app is the most useful thing out there for getting around.
posted by Ned G at 8:27 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't already have one, a power adapter for plugging U.S. electronics into UK outlets. Maybe even more than one, if he's planning to take lots of plug-in-able things (i.e. someone might want to be charging, say, a phone, laptop, and tablet at the same time).
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:34 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ooh, nice food for thought already! He'll be staying in a furnished flat. And his daily Tube commute is apparently pretty long.
posted by theatro at 8:50 AM on August 26, 2015

What's your budget? A Kindle is great to have for long tube rides.
posted by corvine at 9:15 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

In addtion to rainbowbrite's suggestion - consider actually buying him a UK plug for his powerpack and a UK plug for my USB connectors. Adapters get old really quickly if you have to use them all the time. All readily available on Just be sure you know what he actually needs. Get it shipped to his accommodation and let him know you're doing this so he doesn't go and buy 5 adapters when he probably only needs one if he's covered for these things.

If you know the postcode of his accommodation you could also do him a real service and spend some time researching the area for things you know he'll need/want/enjoy. Things like local restaurants/take out places/other amenities that are aligned with his interestssts/ preferences/ hobbies. Include things like the local walk in clinic and what not. This can be just a bookmark file. These things take time (which he probably hasn't got). In the UK postcode is everything. Chances are his colleagues will live all over and be able to point him in general terms but not specific to his neighbourhood.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:26 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

N-thing umbrella. This one is my holy grail umbrella.

An oyster card holder so he can keep it out of his wallet. Ermm not sure where you buy one outside of London but I always see them in card shops.

Give him like £5-£10 in cash so he can buy a few snacks/bottles of water right away when he arrives.
posted by like_neon at 9:29 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

A-Z book was invaluable for me, as was small laminated fold-out map of central London etc.
posted by bquarters at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2015

If an umbrella, then this one.

Does he like books? Tube journeys will fly by faster if he's got a great audio book going on his phone, and subscriptions to are quite affordable. (My husband's long ago purchase of a subscription for me got me started on my addiction to audio books.)

If you can swing it and he doesn't have one, a Kindle would be awesome.
posted by bearwife at 11:11 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kindle and umbrella are must-haves.

I'd also recommend a good set of in-ear headphones with mic, to make the Tube more bearable. The Kindle will do text-to-speech, or for podcasts, or music.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:14 AM on August 26, 2015

I highly suggest he get into online grocery shopping, all the places have it, even frozen food stores. The benefits are great. If he lives near a Waitrose, he can get a free coffee every morning with a card.

The situation on the tube will be bleak. If he can hack it, taking the bus is very welcoming to those tired of standing for an hour morning and night. People do ride the buses and Oyster works there.

He should get a slow cooker. They have saved many people. Most stores have frozen pizza for a pound. He should get used to Nescafe in a month, Azera by Nestle is a favorable instant. Starbucks is worse over here but the English like a lot of milk in coffee so order an Americano. Coffee is also a lot hotter here, really.

The major thing to do is not get carried away on nights out. Taxis are so expensive and minicabs charge just a sliver less. The tube stops reasonably early and strikes the day after Christmas. Thanksgiving is another workday, which is sad. Some places do turkey but he'll be better off hosting work friends at his flat for supper that weekend than risk the tortures of making a gigantic meal to eat by himself.

I cannot say enough about Wetherspoons. The McDonalds of England. Tuesday is steak night and its a great way to splurge. Avoid curry night at all costs. It is one of the few places that carry American ales and they have inexpensive (£2 pints) of English ales. Avoid Ruddles.

Finally, tell him to learn to drive if he has time. Confidence on British roads is truly the best thing he can have to make use of his little free time and not get bored of his surroundings too quickly. There are many driving schools and it's about £25 per hour if he already knows how to drive.
posted by parmanparman at 12:34 PM on August 26, 2015

Kindle for the commute, though be aware that the UK and US Kindle stores are mutually exclusive.

A pocket A-Z is still handy for situations where mobile reception isn't great and wi-fi isn't available.
posted by holgate at 12:42 PM on August 26, 2015

If he's moving to London for long enough to open a bank account, get a credit card, or buy any electrical appliances, I'd highly recommend giving him a subscription to Which? Magazine, which is the UK equivalent of Consumer Reports. When I first moved from the US to the UK, I had no idea which brands and shops were trustworthy, nor did I know anything about my consumer rights under UK law. I would have saved myself a lot of money and stress if I had subscribed to Which? from the beginning.

In addition to the monthly magazine, the subscription will give him access to the complete online article of product reviews and consumer advice.

It isn't cheap -- I think it's something like £85/year -- but if it's within your budget, it will probably end up saving him much more than £85 in his first year here.
posted by yankeefog at 1:48 PM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I must counter parmanparman a bit— if your brother cares at all about coffee, there are ton(ne)s of very decent places to get either pour-over or espresso in London, especially in the East End. Taylor St and Climpson & Sons are both excellent.

There is no reason to stoop to instant.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:49 PM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

On the splurgy side, I'll add that these are simply awesome (in terms of sound and comfort) headphones. And so small. And their own teeny carrying case. I use them for all my consuming.
posted by bearwife at 2:22 PM on August 26, 2015

Plenty of great coffee in London, and plenty of people have a 'proper' coffee machine at home (certainly better than the horrible drop filters all over America....). If he's not got a coffee machine in his place and doesn't want to buy an electrical item if he's not here long term then an Aeropress would make a fantastic gift.

I wouldn't bother with Which magazine unless he's going to be buying household goods etc, but even if he is every library I've been in has copies for free.

I don't think I've ever seen anyone who isn't a tourist use a pop-out map or an A-Z in the last 5 years, just get a smartphone app (Citymapper).

A Kindle is a great recommendation if he hasn't already got one.

Not sure about the Wetherspoons recommendation, they're mostly fine, always cheap, but soulless and not really a 'pub' in the proper sense of the word.

A power adaptor like this would be handy:
posted by chrispy108 at 1:35 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

If he's going to be using the Tube a lot, you could save him a fair bit of money by getting him a nice travel mug so he can drink homemade coffee on the way into work instead of dropping ridiculous amounts on a coffee from Starbucks or Pret or whatever.

Along the same lines, a subscription to Kopi or Pact coffee and a SmartCafe mug.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:11 AM on August 27, 2015

Response by poster: These are all very helpful, thank you so much! And I think the overriding and quite wise idea is not to give him anything before he goes, but have things sent to him once he's there--I hadn't even thought of that, but that's what I'm going to do. Because it's not about, you know, me lionizing myself by handing him a wrapped something. It's making his stressful time a little bit easier--and items showing up on his doorstep is definitely easier. I have an Amazon UK account, so once he's there he'll start finding helpful things on the mat. I know for instance he could use a good strong umbrella for starters.

I admit, I'm not a coffee-drinker myself, so I don't quite understand it and could use further pointers. He has remarked in the past, when coming back from London, that they don't usually sell what we Americans think of as regular "coffee" over there--like when we just ask for a cup of black coffee--but instead various permutations of espresso + milk/froth (cappuccino, latte, macchiatto, etc.). So, like, he bought a breakfast and they said "that comes with coffee" and he was like, "Great!", and it was espresso, which was not the same thing. Further googling seems to indicate that it's mostly about the fineness of the grounds and the concentration of the result? (Sorry. Coffee n00b here, for reals.)

Is there something he's been missing that I could advise him on? Like, a halcyon day above mentions "pour-over". Is this more like standard US coffee (as opposed to espresso)?
posted by theatro at 8:19 AM on August 27, 2015

An book to read on the tube. Old fashioned i know but does not need charging.
posted by dprs75 at 8:38 AM on August 27, 2015

Like, a halcyon day above mentions "pour-over". Is this more like standard US coffee (as opposed to espresso)?

Not really: it's a cone and a filter but done for one with a fancy kettle, and takes a while to pour. That's more the domain of the upscale spots, not the mega-chains. But plenty of places do drip coffee, and I'm sure a few still do the "fancy" (not fancy) coffee where they give you a little cafetière / French press.
posted by holgate at 9:43 AM on August 27, 2015

And almost every coffee place in the UK does plain, mug sized black coffee called an 'americano'. I've always assumed that's what Americans have... No?
posted by Ned G at 9:57 AM on August 27, 2015

No. Americano is espresso diluted with hot water, which isn't the same as the drip/filter coffee that is served out of one of these.
posted by holgate at 10:10 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I believe that asking for a "filter coffee" will bring you the desired result. I often ask for one at Starbucks etc, it is very common.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:54 PM on August 27, 2015

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